“Thought, outside” Craig Berggold, Marlene Creates, Kiss & Tell, Roy Kiyooka, Laiwan, Ken Lum, Melinda Mollineaux
by Jaleh Mansoor
Curator Amy Kazymerchyk’s exhibition “Thought, outside” takes an opaque, poetic, and political problem—theorist Maurice Blanchot’s Thought of/from The Outside—to elaborate a conceptually rigorous yet affectively embracing love letter to Vancouver in which the historically distant echoes of the city’s bestknown contribution to Conceptual Art, the Vancouver School, gently yields and opens onto peripheral yet constitutive voices. The pleasure afforded by this spatially contained yet effervescent jewel of a show is the realization as if for the first time that, as ever, any understanding of an inside is but a complex if disavowed relationship to that which falls out. Kazymerchyk allows this illumination to emerge through a rigorous negation of any subjective interiority. That this seemingly stern methodology should generate original and intimately resonant results is astonishing, irreducible in the last instance to anything but Kazymerchyk’s own curatorial “imprint.”
Blanchot’s “outside,” the content of which is an exteriority graspable through negative capacity, takes numerous forms in thought and sociality. In the most basic terms, Blanchot’s outside is anything that falls outside an immediate normative framework. Anonymity might touch on this outside; the dynamic of negative space in cubist collage might describe it. For philosopher Étienne Balibar, Blanchot’s outside is a form of “fearless speech” where transgression opens onto real politics. This fearlessness is not the result of charismatic individuality but, to the contrary, an unbound dynamic in the social field.
Kazymerchyk accomplishes a probe into this outside through the kind of experiment a scientist might organize, isolating a variable by holding firm to a set of constants. All the work in the show is lens-based, serial, and achromatic. The curator does this in order to circumscribe the problem and to draw the viewer to content. Draining any remnant of spectacle, selfexpression, or immediate visual pleasure from the visual horizon of the exhibition, the negative capacity of the seemingly opaque and mercurial about this outside is probed.
What constitutes the outside circumscribed by Kazymerchyk’s restrained methodology? It presents itself as inherently plural, evading any static or homogenizing identity yet touching on forms of sexual, political, and economic transgression. Canadian multimedia artist and organizer Craig Berggold’s photographic essay documents labour struggles in British Columbia’s agriculture sector. A series of black and-white photographs, A Time to Change (1984) frames what he says eloquently in a subsequent podcast interview with the curator: that representation as such won’t resonate in the visual field unless it is willing to look at the point of production and circulation itself. Berggold’s project reminds me of Marx’s statement about the “hidden abode of production,” the “point of production” which is obscured in the commodity as it is presented on the market and which marks the aporia of labour value within a bourgeois matrix of the visible, sayable, and knowable. For instance, Berggold notes that discourses of nutritional health, green sustainability, and “buying local” have yet to acknowledge the precarious working and living conditions of migrant workers who pick and process our local food—a circuit that relies on the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program and labourers from mostly Mexico and the Caribbean whose immigration status in Canada is dependent on this work and tied to a specific employer.
Caribbean-Canadian artist Melinda Mollineaux shows work that explores the African diaspora through the black-and-white serial photoessay Cadboro Bay: Index to an Incomplete History (1998/2020), sharing a polyvalent, nuanced history of colonialism which Kazymerchyk restored for “Thought, outside.” In 1862, Cadboro Bay in Victoria, BC, was the site of a Haida encampment where people were recovering from a smallpox imported by colonizers. This community was then violently and forcibly relocated to Haida Gwaii by settler ships operating in the name of the Canadian state. Black people escaping the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, designed to forcibly return those formerly enslaved to American plantations, also set up a community in Cadboro Bay. It was a site of multiple struggles for autonomy in waves of mobility, migration, encounter, and violence. These tides of struggle connect to the notion of tidalectics that Mollineaux picks up. Qualifying the long history of the Middle Passage, Mollineaux takes the term from Wayde Compton, a poet and fellow in the Black Pacific Project, who in turn gets it from Kamau Brathwaite’s tidalectic which summons dialectics in a fluid and cyclical register. Shores, coastlines, and beaches are read by Mollineaux in a subsequent podcast that reflects on the exhibition as a “break from the past […] and a connection to the past; a break and a communion with the past.”
African Notes (1982) by Laiwan, an artist born in Apartheid-era Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, of Chinese parents, offers the exhibition’s sole interruption of the curator’s effort to maintain formal consistency across projects. Laiwan’s African Notes stands apart by virtue of a three-dimensional component that comes off the wall and into the ambient space of the room. It comprises a slide projector, a tool of colonial knowledge that projected black-and-white images of colonized subjects. Many of the slides in this work feature snapshots and family photographs of the artist’s former life in Zimbabwe. The cycle of images includes a voiceover that reflects on Zimbabwe through the framework of various official discourses—travel, medical, and juridical. Laiwan summons this aural exteriority—an “outside” projected onto the peripheralized colony by hegemonic discourses of the colonial metropole. This projected “outside-ness” writes over Indigenous cultures, to deliver its putative and desired “identity” in the interests of “technological productive forces of the market,” as Laiwan says in the podcast discussion with the curator.
Finally, Kazymerchyk borrows a now familiar scene: the “aesthetics of administration,” a term used by Benjamin H.D. Buchloh to describe conceptual and lens-based art’s seeming fetishization of the archive. Kazymerchyk’s borrowing turns this familiar administrative scene inside out to create a deeply thoughtful reflection expressed in the intimate register of a love letter to Vancouver, through its multiple outsides.